‘Free Yourself’ Campaign Connects with Travelers

By Mary Minor Davis –

“Free Yourself in Tucson” – a new branding campaign launched by Visit Tucson to increase tourism in the Old Pueblo – has been resoundingly successful.

“It exceeded all expectations,” said Allison Cooper, VP of sales & marketing at Visit Tucson, of the media campaign launched last fall. This was the first advertising to use the new “Free Yourself” message developed after extensive market research.

The success is measured by tracking visits to the Visit Tucson website. Results show:

  • Visit Tucson videos were viewed more than 1.14 million times by targeted consumers.
  • The New York City market had an 86 percent increase in visitors to the Visit Tucson site, the largest among the top 10 feeder markets.
  • The Chicago market delivered the largest increase in year-over-year traffic with an uptick of more than 26,500 unique visits to the website.

Cooper said year-over-year results of the campaign showed double digit increases across all Internet measurements for www.visitTucson.org. Since the December 2013 launch, overall traffic to visitTucson.org increased 59 percent year over year through February 2014. Year-over-year traffic increased 50 percent in March and 47 percent in April. Time spent on the site, averaging between 6 to 8 minutes, has doubled. Page views also were up by 27 to 32 percent.

In addition to the 86 percent increase in the New York City market, the percentage of new viewers visiting the website in the other top 10 markets this winter were: Atlanta, 74 percent; Chicago, 75 percent; Dallas, 82 percent; Denver, 29 percent; Los Angeles, 78 percent; Phoenix, 76 percent; San Francisco, 81 percent; Seattle, 83 percent; and Washington D.C., 83 percent.

Of course Mother Nature also had a hand in the new campaign’s success. Tucson had “exceptional” weather while the Midwest and Northeast regions of the country had some of the worst winter storms in history – which resulted in more visitors coming to Tucson seeking warmer, sunnier conditions.

Visit Tucson President and CEO Brent DeRaad said Tucson-area resorts overall are anecdotally reporting increased room revenue of about 10 percent for the winter season.
Did the phenomenal increases in Internet traffic to the Visit Tucson website correlate to more tourists in Tucson and Southern Arizona?

“This campaign was primarily targeted to the leisure market. Leisure impact is more difficult to track than group sales,” DeRaad said. “There has been a significant increase this year, part of that due to the resorts’ efforts, part of that due to ours. But the bottom line is we have seen an increase in leisure travel this year.

“There’s no question that the research we conducted played a huge part in allowing us to achieve these results. We now know who our customers are right down to the zip code.”
In June of last year – at the same time the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau freed itself of its stodgy and laborious six-word name to become known as simply Visit Tucson – the quasi-governmental organization announced it would soon be launching the new, rebranded Free Yourself campaign.

On its website, Visit Tucson eloquently describes the “Free Yourself in Tucson” message in this way: “Tucson inspires a sense of freedom among all who visit. Freedom of thought and expression. Freedom to discover and explore. And the freedom to be yourself. Tucson is calling you – the free thinker and the free at heart – to explore without boundaries.

“Our natural landscape draws visitors outdoors where there is plenty of room to roam. A bit off the beaten path, Tucson’s unique attractions and accommodations beckon you to discover and explore, and our arts and culture scene makes Tucson a place that’s authentic and comfortable. Savor the unapologetic passion for food that inspires Tucson’s cuisine, or come as you are and experience our vibrant nightlife. An oasis from the unoriginal and pretentious, Tucson is a place that you want to be.”

The Free Yourself campaign was developed after more than a year of extensive marketing research to help identify specific visitor demographics, key target markets and new marketing strategies and media tactics. Visit Tucson also hosted meetings and focus groups with hundreds of individuals and groups in Tucson and in top visitor feeder markets to gain their perspectives on Tucson’s assets and vibe. This in-depth research led to the first iteration of the new branding campaign.

DeRaad credited Pima County’s ongoing investment and the City of Tucson for increasing its investment in the tourism bureau, which made the expanded marketing efforts and redirection of resources to Free Yourself possible. Visit Tucson’s budget increased from $6.4 million in 2012-13 to $7 million in 2013-14.

Looking ahead, DeRaad noted future challenges that could detract from efforts to increase Tucson tourism. He said there has been a large reduction in government travel to Tucson.

Another trend that worries him is the impact of vacation rental homes on the lodging industry here. “If you go into any of these vacation rental websites and type in ‘Tucson,’ you’ll be astounded at the number of properties that come up,” DeRaad said. “That’s a disturbing and difficult issue because rental homes provide direct competition with hotels and resorts. This can’t help but negatively impact occupancy in our hotels and resorts.” In addition, vacation rentals are not similarly regulated and nor do they contribute to local bed taxes.

On the positive side, DeRaad said international travel – particularly from Europe, Canada and Mexico – will be a growth market throughout the U.S. over the next 10 years.

Next up, Visit Tucson will incorporate the Free Yourself message in a “Get Wet in Tucson” summer campaign, an initiative directed at Phoenicians that will promote family fun and active adult lifestyles – while also emphasizing the Tucson region’s higher altitudes, its cooler weather and its unique and unapologetic personality.

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